There is dispute over the origins of the name, with some sources claiming the road was named after a nearby garden called 'Goswelle' or 'Goderell' which belonged to Robert de Ufford, 1st Earl of Suffolk, whilst others state it derives from "God's Well", and the traditional pagan practice of well-worship. Until 1864 named Goswell Street, as refererred in Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers (in the novel, the protagonist Samuel Pickwick actually lodged there with Mrs Bardell).
It is mostly occupied by offices and shops, and by the main campus of City University London. It also contains the central library of the Society of Genealogists, one of London's most important reference collections, and the Headquarters of DB Schenker Rail (UK) at 310 Goswell Road.
The New River originally passed along Goswell Road before turning to terminate at New River Head on Rosebery Avenue. The course of the river at this point is now entirely underground, and no trace of it can be seen at the surface.
James Parrott and the four-minute mile
Some sources (notably Olympic medallist Peter Radford) contend that Goswell Road was the starting point for the first successful four-minute mile run, by James Parrott on 9 May 1770. Parrott's route began on Goswell Road, before turning down Old Street, finishing at St Leonard's, Shoreditch. Although timing methods at this time were - following the invention of the chronometer by John Harrison - accurate enough to measure the four minutes correctly, and sporting authorities of the time accepted the claim as genuine, the record is not recognised by modern sporting bodies.
The Dame Alice Owen's School bombing
On 15 October 1940, approximately 150 people were sheltering in the basement of Dame Alice Owen's School, then situated on Goswell Road. A large parachute bomb hit the building directly, causing the structure to collapse and blocking access to the basement. The blast wave from the bomb caused the pipeline carrying the New River to rupture, flooding the shelter and killing the majority of shelterers.
A memorial to the victims of the bombing stands in Owen's Fields at the northern end of Goswell Road.
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